Proposed rent relief fund aiming to prevent massive surge in evictions, homelessness

New Mexico News

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico was number one in the nation for growth in chronic homelessness last year and experts are predicting another drastic increase if the governor and state legislature do not act now.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands of families that are in a position where if they’re not covered by the federal CARES Act and have had evictions entered against them, those evictions are simply stayed right now, and as soon as the supreme court order is lifted, there will be a very, very sharp increase in homelessness,” said Lindsay Cutler, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

In March, the New Mexico Supreme Court ordered evictions to be halted, if the tenant could prove they couldn’t pay because of the pandemic. When that order changes, leaders are predicting a huge spike in evictions that could put 20,000 New Mexicans on the streets.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, along with 50 other social justice and housing groups, are now calling on the governor and lawmakers to pass a rent relief fund in next week’s special legislative session.

The proposals include:

  • Invest in a statewide rental assistance program that will provide monetary assistance to our state’s hardest-hit tenants and landlords;
  • Enact a statewide eviction moratorium which halts evictions throughout the duration of the public health emergency and phases out as our state begins to recover;
  • Repeal antiquated legislation that illegally prohibits cities and municipalities from enacting rent control ordinances that keep families housed and financially stable.
  • Expand the Foreclosure Settlement Program that currently exists in the First, Second and Thirteenth Judicial Districts statewide to all thirteen judicial district courts.

Leaders say without additional protection from the state, once the Supreme Court order is lifted, people like Allyssa Garcia, a single mom in Albuquerque, fear they will be evicted. “They’re my world and if I can’t provide for them then that would be hard and I just hope that they do make a change because it is tough being a single mom, and just not knowing the future, not knowing what’s going to happen,” said Garcia.

Garcia is a mother of three. She had to cut back on her hours working as a home healthcare giver because she has Lupus and is at a greater risk for getting COVID-19. Her youngest daughter is also battling medical issues.

“My youngest daughter, the seven-year-old, she has a pacemaker and she was born with a complete heart block so she does have medical issues, and on top of my medical issues that wouldn’t been a good scenario for us to be on the streets,” said Garcia. As a result of fewer hours, Garcia fell behind on her rent and says her landlord is planning to evict her after the Supreme Court order is lifted.

KRQE News 13 has learned a group of lawmakers is working on legislation to protect Garcia and thousands of others in the same boat. Representative Andrea Romero from Santa Fe is hoping to use $113 million dollars from the rainy day fund to pay for the rent relief package.

“113 million really saves thousands, tens of thousands of families from potentially having to live on the streets if they can’t find another option, while we’re still reopening our economy and seeing if we can recover the jobs that have been lost,” said Romero. It will be a battle to even discuss the rent relief package during the short, special legislative session.

A statement to KRQE News 13 from a spokesperson for the governor’s office:

But the governor has been and remains in constant communication with legislators and legislative leadership, some of whom have raised this as a potential issue to be taken up during the special session. The “call” of legislation still to be taken up is still being finalized – but the focus will be squarely on addressing the economic shortfalls exposed by the pandemic, assisting small businesses and New Mexicans that have been affected, and ensuring the state can keep afloat financially till the regular 60-day special session. Any sort of proposal within that scope or outside of it will have to have broad support from the Legislature ahead of time as the intent is to keep the special session quick and moving quickly in the interest of public health.

Romero is hopeful the issue will be heard and is trying to rally widespread support. “It is a rainy fund and if it’s not raining now when it’s an incredibly unprecedented time, then when is it?” said Romero.

Garcia is also hopeful the legislature will discuss the rent relief fund. “Oh, that would help so much, like significantly, because the fact it would relieve so much stress from my life and from the kids’ life and knowing how important they are to me, they’re my life,” said Garcia.

A spokesperson for the New Mexico Supreme Court says the order will remain in place until the court decides otherwise. There is no indication for when that may be. The special legislative session is set to begin on June 18.

Read the group letter to the governor for a rent relief fund here:

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